Beyond Pattern-Based Thinking 1Practice materials laid out in any given method book are often validated by the possibilities for musical application that await those who work through the pages patiently of diligently. This article is designed to give you a glimpse of the method outlined in my book, The New Frontier, before moving into some challenging applications that incorporate the abilities acquired by practicing the ideas suggested in the book.

We begin by playing two beats of quintuplets with all the strokes on the hi-hat, except the stroke on beat 2, which lands on the snare. The feet play steady quarter notes.

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You can use single strokes to get this going, but once you start feeling comfortable with the subdivision and begin hearing the sound of the quintuplets, you’re ready to get into some further explorations. My book provides fifteen alternate stickings to get away from basic single strokes. Here’s a more natural variation.

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Here’s a pattern that’s deceptively difficult.

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And here’s one that’s quite challenging.

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By practicing the previous examples, you’ll get better at hearing and playing quintuplets, and you’ll become more agile by dealing with unfamiliar stickings.

However challenging it may have been to get the previous exercises under control, the real work is in what lies ahead. After learning the sticking patterns, you must then spend time improvising within the given framework. This may be difficult to do at first. But through practice, you’ll develop the ability to keep altering the sticking in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, utilizing all kinds of combinations—even unorthodox ones that might contain three or more strokes in a row with one hand, or ones that call for a broken double stroke between the hi-hat and snare. Improvising the sticking solidifies the sound of the quintuplet subdivision internally as well as externally, as you can’t rely on any particular sticking and you have to use your ears to ensure an even flow and an accurate backbeat placement.

One simple way to force yourself to change stickings repeatedly would be to make your backbeat land on the opposite hand each time. For instance, if you play the first backbeat with your right hand, then the following must come from the left, and so on. The goal is to break free from a patterned approach to playing. This will eventually allow you the freedom to shape your musical statements in exciting ways that differ from the norm.

The snare can be placed anywhere within the subdivision. Beat 2 is the most common place to start, but I encourage you to explore all of the other landing points as well. These less-conventional placements require you to really use your ears, because you’ll be landing on the snare at points that are off the beaten path while constantly improvising your stickings, so you definitely can’t rely on patterns when practicing this step.

The goal of this type of method is to get you closer to immediately transferring what you hear to the drumset, without being locked into any memorized sticking combinations. The desired outcome, after many hours of careful and focused practice, is the ability to play any sound with, before, or after any other sound in an improvised fashion.

To illustrate the points further, we’re going to conclude with some ideas that came to me as a result of practicing the material contained in my book.

In this example, the rhythm of the bass drum is a direct quote of the bass line in Jacques Schwarz-Bart’s tune “Soné Ka-La.” The left foot fills in around the bass drum, which is a challenge because there are many double strokes involved.

This phrase goes over the barline, using three-, five-, and seven-note groupings of 16th notes.

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In the tune “My Lucky Number,” from the Sveti album Where I Come From, I play a solo over a left-foot ostinato. I use brushes, so you can really hear both the ostinato and the solo ideas played over it. The rhythm is in 7/8.

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This is a nice-sounding polymetric idea composed of parts in 5/8 (right hand), 2/4 (right foot), 3/8 (left foot), and 7/8 (left hand). The parts get layered one by one, and once they’re all playing, the left hand begins improvising over the remaining three ostinatos. This pattern has become a piece titled “What Time Is It?”

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Here’s another idea involving multiple meters. This one combines 2/4 (right hand), 6/8 (bass drum and left hand), and 5/8 (left foot). Once all of the parts are introduced and established, the left foot solos over the others.

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In my tune “We’ll See,” which is also on Where I Come From, I play a 3/4 beat with the bass drum playing off a four-three polyrhythm. The snare lands on beat 3, while the hi-hat foot plays a steady stream of 8th notes. As the tune progresses, the interactions between the limbs get more involved, but the basic rhythmic structure stays in place.

After the tune was written and recorded, I began thinking about ways to explore polymetric possibilities in order to give the groove a different flavor. I looked to the left-foot 8th-note flow as a possible place to get this going. By switching some of the notes from the chick sound to splashes, I began playing two-, three-, and four-note combinations, as well as longer phrases of fives and sevens. At first this was very challenging, but with practice I’ve arrived at a point where I can either keep repeating one particular grouping over and over, thus creating the impression of two time signatures moving simultaneously, or I can freely improvise a totally independent line of rhythmic counterpoint to the main beat.

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Students often complain that what they hear is beyond what they can actually execute on the instrument in the heat of the moment. The method I’ve introduced here is geared precisely toward removing the barriers that exist between your head, ears, limbs, and heart, as well as between you, the instrument, and the music you’re playing. This is a lofty goal, and it requires time, dedication, concentration, persistence, and patience. And above all else, it requires a love of drums and music that’s never ending, much like the challenges that come with striving for the unattainable goal of perfection in artistic expression.

Marko Djordjevic, who was born in Belgrade, Serbia, has performed with Aaron Goldberg, Matt Garrison, Eric Lewis, Jonah Smith, and many others. He is the bandleader of Sveti and is on the faculty at the Collective in New York City. Djordjevic’s DVD, Where I Come From, and book, The New Frontier for Drumset, are available through Alfred Publishing. For more info, go to